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CIO Leadership Series: Eichner tackles business intelligence for HIMSS

Chicago, Ill. - Even in the corporate boardroom, the term “business intelligence” can be joked about as an oxymoron, but Reed Eichner doesn't believe it's a laughing matter.

It's not that Eichner, vice president and CIO for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, lacks a sense of humor. But he is about to launch new business intelligence initiative that will be rolled out company wide, and he envisions lasting business benefits.

HIMSS is a healthcare industry membership organization focused on the best use of healthcare information technology and management systems. It not only operates in North America, it is expanding into Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia Pacific region.

The business-intelligence project marks the first time in HIMSS history that it has embarked on the planning and deployment of “BI” platform for all of its key stakeholders, including everyone from the CEO on down. It involves the organization's existing CRM system, a membership tracking database, and an e-business application, and eventually will span all of its databases, including internally controlled databases and some ASP model data sets it uses for reporting and revenue generation.

There are several possible uses, Eichner said, but generally HIMSS is striving to provide information to the organization's business owners to help them make actionable decisions on a daily basis. The information could include everything from adhoc reports to more targeted and segmented marketing that drives decision-making.
“I keep underscoring decision making,” said Eichner, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “That really is the emphasis of our project.”

For the organization's communications department, which is responsible for book and magazine publications and sales, the BI tool should enable the development of reports to track not only people who come to the HIMSS website, but link that with specific marketing campaigns and follow the sales cycle all the way through. That way, the organization can make sure it has the right marketing penetration that results in publication sales.

Business Objects, the vendor platform, has several tools, including a data analyzer that an IT staff can use to deliver information to business owners. HIMSS also intends to put the data analyzer in the hands of so-called “super users” in the organization and allow them to develop their own reports without calling the help desk.

In addition, there are data cleansing and data management tools, and the ability to create data marts or data warehouse steps for reporting outside of transactional systems.

By mid month, HIMSS plans to roll out the data analyzer tools and the pre-designed universe that works with the HIMSS database. A universe is a graphical database view that prevents users from having to worry about what table structures look like so they can perform drag and drop-style reporting from the database.

The organization already has completed an initial round of training with staff on the data analyzer tools, and Eichner said users are enthusiastic because it has been difficult to generate even an adhoc report out of the current system. Users had to write custom-sequel queries or use other reporting tools that only the IT staff had access to. From the users' perspective, HIMSS expects the data analyzer to reduce turn-around time on information and reports coming out of various databases.

“We expect to be able to provide that actionable decision-making type of information much quicker than we were before,” Eichner said. “We also expect to achieve ROI though the integration of databases, which has been fairly difficult up until now.”

Take it from a man who knows

Eichner has plenty of advice for CIOs who are pondering their own approach to business intelligence. First, they should write a clear business case for deploying business-intelligence tools. Secondly, they should present that case to executive management and get their approval, buy-in, and support in terms of capital and operating expenses. Next, he would identify one or two “quick wins” for delivering business intelligence.

“As part of business case, be able to demonstrate, at end of the first year, some soft and hard ROI,” he advised. “Admittedly, this is a little difficult in the BI space.”

It's also important to have the right staff around you - report writers, business administrators, and business analysts who can interact with business owners - and CIOs must choose the BI platform appropriate for their organization.

HIMSS is in the middle of hiring a business intelligence analyst, and in combination with the software, first-year operations will cost about $140,000. For HIMSS, a business analyst has to understand business in general, have good interpersonal skills, and be able to understand business needs.

Value by survey

Eichner has 50 percent of a master's in information technology completed at the University of Texas-San Antonio. He came to the Chicago-based HIMSS from San Antonio, where he served as vice president and CIO for the Cancer Therapy and Research Center.

With his small IT staff of 12, and modest IT budget of $3 million annually, he uses inter-company surveying to assess the business value that information technology provides. HIMSS has two different flavors of employee satisfaction survey, and the results that its IT and application development groups get from those surveys give Eichner an indication of business value, not only from responses but also the accompanying commentaries.

The organization also tracks ROI on certain projects, as it did this past fiscal year when it switched vendors on its conferencing system. Besides its corporate headquarters in Chicago, HIMSS has offices in Ann Arbor, Mich., Arlington, Va., and a managed office in Brussels, Belgium. Outside of that, it also has a large percentage of employees who work remotely from home and who are spread out across the nation, and it works with volunteers in its 47 state chapters.

Due to all these factors, it has an enormous amount of conferencing time, and recently converted to WebEx for web conferencing. HIMSS has a contract with WebEx for 200,000 minutes of talk time per month, and it's tracking between 40 and 50 percent cost savings this fiscal year alone.

Having an employee who's approaching Black Belt status in Six Sigma doesn't hurt, either. He recommended a major project last year to improve the organization's business process relative to registration for its annual conference. To measure value, the metrics were based on observed and recorded online wait times, which is the most important goal of the project. Roughly 80 percent of its customers pre-register for the conference through the HIMSS website.

It was an example of how HIMSS has tracked and documented IT value in terms of hard-dollar ROI, process improvement and, like the business intelligence project, it gives decision-makers actionable information. Again, surveying was a key tool used to measure business value.

“Most of our conference satisfaction surveys from attendees and exhibitors indicate a high level of satisfaction with the registration process,” Eichner stated.

Making the business case

Making a business case also is part of the organization's decision-making process for large IT implementations, which is part of the organization's annual budget cycle. On any project over $25,000, IT must write a business case for it and present that case to executive management for approval, including capital and operational initiatives over that amount.

“Part of that business case,” Eichner said, “includes establishing success metrics and ROI in general.”

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